Motherhood: Embracing a New Approach to the Outdoors

Walking by the Bow River. Instagram pic.
Walking by the Bow River, Banff. Instagram pic by Meghan J. Ward.

You know you might have reached a bit of a low when it’s a beautiful summer day and you’re inside watching a woman named Taffee shouting out a dumb answer on Family Feud. But at least that was my cue to shut off the TV and do something more useful – such as write this post – while my little one takes a cat nap on my lap.

After that I’ll plan on taking her out for another walk in the Chariot. Where should we go this time? Back to the bridge? Back to the canoe docks? I’m just about ready to write the guide to the best stroller walks in Banff.

Yep, that’s just the kind of week it has been.

Switchbacks on Pavement

We’re in full-on summer here in the Canadian Rockies. It’s a rare, precious time of year. So short, it can slip through your fingertips if you’re not careful. Normally, I have a don’t-waste-a-beautiful-day kind of policy. Sunshine on the weather network usually means camp, scramble, hike, climb, run or paddle, unless I’m terribly sick. A call for rain indicates only a change in expectation of what I’ll see while I’m out on the trail. But so far this summer, I’ve done more switchbacks on the pavement trying to keep my 4-month-old content (Keep moving or I’ll cry!) than I have up a mountainside. The mountains for me feel like a distant friend, like someone you see through a crowd but just can’t get to to say ‘hello’ (and it has been forever).

First time camping, Two Jack Lake, Banff. Instagram pic.
First time camping, Two Jack Lake, Banff. Instagram pic by Meghan J. Ward.

Don’t get me wrong: Maya and I have spent plenty of time outside. We go for walks every single day (sometimes two to three times per day), play in the park, go for short hikes, hang out by the water, and camp. Sometimes I’m able to take off for a quick run or paddle while someone else watches her (she’s not super keen on the bottle these days). And though we might not be scaling peaks together (yet) or covering lots of terrain (can’t wait to get her in the backpack carrier), I’m happy to know she is already developing a relationship with the outdoors. Things are just looking differently for me these days, and I’ll admit that sometimes it’s tough, especially when conditions are perfect, the skies are clear and high elevations are calling my name.

Intrinsic Memory

Something I have found reassuring lately is the concept of “intrinsic memory”. This article offers a great description (though it’s about letting children cry, not specifically about memory):

“Intrinsic memory encodes the emotional aspects of early experience, mostly in the prefrontal lobe of the brain. These emotional memories may last a lifetime. Without any recall of the events that originally encoded them, they serve as a template for how we perceive the world and how we react to later occurrences.”

Kayaking on Lake Joseph, Muskoka. Instagram pic.
Kayaking on Lake Joseph, Muskoka. Instagram pic by Meghan J. Ward.

So, if intrinsic memory is real, I believe that my efforts to introduce my little girl to the outdoors early on will create positive memories, and help her to nurture a good relationship with the natural world. I do this not to force her into a love for the outdoors for my own sake, but because I believe that nature is the greatest teacher and where we ultimately belong. So, even if this is a low-key summer for me, I feel motivated that everything I choose to do with Maya outside provides an important foundation for her as she gets to know this world. Not only that, but these experiences provide some great memories for her mom and dad, too (Remember when we ran out of diapers that first time we went camping?).

Eventually, I’ll also be able to spend a bit more time away from her and rekindle my personal relationship with the great outdoors. When days are tough, and when I feel that tiny pang of jealousy for my ‘past self’ that could head off on a scramble at a moment’s notice, I remind myself that someday that option will return. Until then, I’ll take the opportunity to see the world with a renewed sense of wonderment, and focus on helping Maya develop positive intrinsic memories of the outdoors.

(And when I hit the trail with my little Chatterbox, at least I won’t have to worry about surprising the wildlife.)

Check out Mistaya’s Logbook for updates on our outdoor adventures and follow me on Instagram!

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

13 thoughts

    1. Well, that’s reassuring! Nice to see that your little “C” is in the backpack. I can’t wait for that.

      Just read your last post. I can definitely relate to your “minimum sanity requirements” (shall we call them MSRs from now on?). I’m inspired by your commitment to staying active.

      Thanks for reading!

  1. First six months are always a little difficult, it does get better. I did more hiking earlier on with my second, more confidence and I’d Just hike with her in my front cloth or ERGO carrier. My kids are 3 and almost 2 years old and sometimes it’s still difficult to get outdoors with them but when they ask me “Mommy, I want to go to the mountains” I know I’m doing my job In sharing my love for the outdoors with them 🙂 Soon enough you will find your new normal.

    1. Ah, yes. The “new normal”. This has been something important to learn in motherhood – that we never truly go back to ‘normal’, nor would I ever want to. Thanks, Melissa!

  2. Ergo! I have taken my second kid everywhere in an Ergo- even hiking a scree field on Mt. Crested Butte. The Ergo is truly a work of art. With my first, I wore her in the Moby everywhere. I have biked with kids in the Ergo, gone on boat rides- pretty much everything. Also, I am a huge fan of a bike trailer. At 4 months, you can put them in an infant car seat and strap that in to the trailer (if you have a question, I can send some pics of how we did it with webbing). Seriously, the first year is SO EASY to get out and do things with kids. (Let’s not talk about the year of THREE.) And keep working on that bottle. Because Mama getting out to do her own thing is the best thing for everybody!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Eryn! I have been using the Boba and the Moby. Problem is: unless my little one is asleep, she lasts only about 15 minutes in the carrier before she screams and flails. We do have a bike trailer (Chariot). I’m told not to use it for biking until 10 months, though I know some people use it earlier than that. Your car seat idea sounds intriguing! Yes, please do send along pics to

      Like I said, I have been able to do lots with her, and I keep it in mind that it is much easier with just one! Every once in awhile, I just crave a big day outside that isn’t ‘big’ because of the new logistical challenges of bringing the baby along.

      And do you find you get really hot hiking in the Ergo?

  3. She’ll get used to a soft carrier if you stick with it. I never owned a stroller, so my two had to get used to the wrap. (And had to get used to multi-month expeditions in said wrap!) I’d be careful getting too dependent on a backpack carrier, since they’re way less ergonomic for heavier kids than the soft carriers like the Ergo or a wrap. I just finished up a 3.5 month journey with my 30lb 2.5 year old on my back — I’d never have made it if she was in one of those backpack carriers.

    1. Thanks for the tips! Wow – I admire your strength and stamina embarking on a trip like that with a 30 pounder on your back! I’ll have to see as time goes on which I prefer.

  4. Yes, well, that was the last time! Next time she walks. (I think 3yrs is my cutoff for carrying) I had good luck getting my 4 year old to walk, and am looking forward to expeditions where both kids carry themselves.

  5. Yes Yes Yes! Not only do I totally get this post, but I’m loving the blogs of the other women who have posted here too. Maybe I will get some time to read them because they look inspiring. 🙂 Now I need to motivate to get out of my pjs and go for a walk with my kiddo!

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